Bird box beginnings

Bits everywhere
Jack’s bird box has been kicking around for ages and I’d like to make use of it. He enjoyed making it, and I asked him and Annabel if they’d like to gadget it up a bit and finish it off by adding a night vision camera to keep an eye on any birds that may choose to nest, and painting, draft proofing, and attaching it to the house. Annabel really liked the idea.
I bought a load of cheap bits and Annabel put together a Raspberry Pi computer after I’d set up the Linux operating system on the micro SD card. She plugged all the parts together herself, including the Pi noir camera that doesn’t have an infrared filter, and powered it up.

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Jack made a bird house a while ago with Scouts and while a great project in itself it hasn’t yet been used. We have attracted a lot of birds to the garden, including a family of bluetits that nested in the eaves or attic of a house opposite our garden. We also have some robins and larger birds like jackdaws, blackbirds, magpies and the odd wren. Maybe we could encourage some to best in Jack’s bird box.

I think we can take it a step further though and add a bit of gadgetry to get more out of this if some birds decide to nest. Annabel and I will have a crack at this on the weekend and I’ll post some more photos and describe what we’re doing then.

Podcast feeds and Windows Phone 8.1

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Finally Windows Phone has a proper podcasts app with the latest (developer) version of Windows Phone 8.1. All you Windows Phone users (anyone?) will be able to search for podcasts from within the app, and Bing does a pretty good job of finding the stuff you like to listen to. When I tried it the big podcasts I like were all available but mine didn’t work, so I sat down and sorted out the RSS feeds so that they’re a lot friendlier to different devices and podcast subscription services. I should have done this in the first place.
From within the Windows Phone podcast app go to the search for podcasts page and try searching for my stuff. Maybe try “swansea embryology” or “swansea neuroscience”. It didn’t work for me when I started writing this but Bing may catch up and it might be ok for you.
If that doesn’t work you can put the link to the RSS feed for each podcast directly into that same search bar. The feeds are:
Anatomy & embryology:
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If that works you should see the podcast, the icon, all the episodes and the description. Neat and tidy.

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Google Glass: triathletes and wearable computing

Google Glass

Image from Flickr by Antonio Zugaldia

Alright. Google Glass. Here we go.
Google Glass has been hitting the news recently for a few reasons. It’s the next big thing. Or it’s not the next big thing. Everybody will be recording everybody else. We will need to learn new lessons in etiquette. It sucks. Its amazing. It looks stupid. How will I tell if he’s paying attention to our conversation or reading Glass? (I imagine, as is normal, you will be able to tell by his eye movements). Triggering these sorts of discussions is always a good thing, so I’ll throw in a few of my own.

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I bought a new set of scales and they say I am heavier than I thought I was.

I bought a new gadget to measure my sleep and it says I don’t sleep as well as I thought I did.

I bought a new power meter and today’s test says I don’t put out as many watts as my previous power meter said I did.

Maybe it’s time to stop buying new gadgets.

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Microsoft Surface & websites



I’ve been using Microsoft’s Surface tablet for a little while now, running the Windows RT version of the Windows 8 operating system. It’s a lovely device, and the cloud integration with Microsoft documents and applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) is great. Having a proper file system back on a tablet device is a nice feeling, giving the user back some control but with some awkward quirks. In many applications you expect to be able to work with the file system fully, but it’s limited. You can’t organise your photos effectively within the photos application, for example. The file system works particularly well with SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud.

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Swim drills & confounding the Garmin 910XT

The Garmin 910XT measures your indoor swim training distance by counting the lengths you swim. You tell it how long the pool is and it does the maths. It can get confused if you change stroke mid-length or don’t swim normal strokes.

I tried it out with some sculling drills today and it was fine with front sculling and mid-sculling but it got a bit weird with back-sculling and added a couple of lengths. Not sure why. Maybe it would be fine in a 25m pool.

I had a look through the data from my 1000m TT swim & found a couple of things. Like I said, my stroke rate could do with improving so I had a crack at that. @thomiphillips has been trying to get me to up my stroke rate and cut out the dead spots in my stroke and he’s succeeded to a point, particularly with the TriLife training day over the winter. My tempo pace stroke rate was around 60spm, and it’s surprisingly hard to stroke faster. It feels like thrashing at the water and I only managed to get it up to 68spm, but I was only losing 1 stroke over 50m at that rate. It felt good though; more like a punchy open water stroke, like I really managed to cut out the front end dead spot, and you seem to breathe so much more!

End result: I swam the fastest 200m reps that I remember ever swimming in a 50m pool. I swim these things at this pace a lot, and these were a lot quicker for the same effort. Nice. That’s something to work on between now and Israel!

Garmin swim data

Look at this, the Garmin 910XT works really well for me in the pool:
Garmin 910Xt Steady Swim
Bang on for number of lengths, distance, and probably strokes per length given the metronomic 23 strokes per length throughout this session. That’s just for one arm though, so you have to double it up for the accepted standard of strokes taken with each arm per 50m. Likewise, the stroke rate (in strokes per minute) does the same thing. I can’t see stroke rate on Garmin Connect anywhere, which is a bit of an omission. You have to go back to the watch to see it.
I didn’t confuse the watch too much with drills, swimming just some single-sided breathing and push phase drills.
Huge amounts of data are presented, so much that it seems to be best to stick to the clock and the lap button when swimming and to look at the data later on the computer. It’s great to have a quick flick through though to see how many strokes you took for the last interval and bits, and see what your efficiency looked like. It seems that I’ll be making use of the stroke rate feature quite a bit given today’s 1km time trial:
Garmin 910Xt 1Km Tt Swim

I failed to improve on previous times. That’s a serious problem. I was feeling good in the pool; strong with a good stroke. My stroke has improved over the last year, and it’s much better balanced, shorter at the front and longer at the back. I feel like I’m catching water better, have a better feel, have better rotation, and swim straighter when I’m swimming hard and breathing to just one side. Yet I’m no faster. Big problem.
I’m guessing the limiter is my inability to increase my stroke rate. I’ll try to chat to people in the know (and that know my stroke) but that looks to be my goal for the next blocks. My stroke rate at race pace is ok at around 60spm, but it should be faster for an open water triathlete.
Collect data, analyse, plan, improve. Thanks Garmin.

A new training partner

Check me out, with my state of the art gadge! My longest running sponsors, mum & dad (& my brother & sister), bought me the brand new Garmin 910XT multisport watch for my birthday! Thanks everybody!

As I train on my own and often these things are my constant and primary companions. Sometimes you set them running & forget about them until you analyse the data at home, and sometimes you’re watching the numbers almost constantly, trying to maintain a pace or effort gasping for air.

So what’s special about the new Garmin? If you’re a triathlete it does the business. At last.
In May last year I wrote a blog entry asking Garmin to make a watch that would do a bunch of things for me the triathlete. A little while later they announced the 910xt in development and it pretty much ticked everything on that list. Great!

The new 910xt will do everything my old red 305 will do, which is great. The stuff like GPS tracking your route, measuring your distance travelled, speed, time, and heart rate is all still in there. You might have seen how I use the Virtual Partner function to take data from old rides and race myself a year later. That’s in there with some little tweaks to make it even easier to use. Auto-lapping by distance or location (great for marking the exit from transition in a multisport race while running with your bike and not having to try and press a button) is still in there, as is the ability to swap the sport mode from biking to running.

So what’s new? The major change is that the 910xt is now properly waterproof. I used to stick my 305 in a ziplock bag under my swim hat for open water swims, which works great but you can’t see any of the numbers while you’re bobbing in the sea having a rest. Because its under your hat. The 910xt, with waterproofing and some clever software that takes care of the problems of dunking the watch in the sea every other second, will measure your distance while swimming and show you your speed and time, and whatnot (like your stroke rate and number of strokes). Very clever. If its strapped to my wrist I’m a little less likely to lose it to Davy Jones’ locker too.
Most of us train regularly in the pool though. The 910xt uses accelerometers to note when you’re swinging your arms around and when you stop and turn at the end of the pool. Tell it how long the pool is and it’ll count the number of laps and tell you how far you’ve swum. And how fast, with what stroke rate, how efficient you were, what stokes you swam with, and so on. It’s clever, but it’s not perfect. You can confuse it by swimming drills (not a normal stroke) or by pausing partway along a length or by changing stroke. The lap button seems to help with getting the number of lengths right, but it’s important not to change your swim drills to match the watch! Hopefully Garmin will work out how we can edit out these problems when we’ve downloaded the data for analysis.

One other thing the 910xt does that the 305 doesn’t, is pick up power from Ant+ compatible power meters. It ain’t getting nuffink from my iBike though, so no doubt it needs some sort of firmware upgrade to enable this, even though if you buy the same model now it has this function built in, and mine already works with Garmin speed, cadence and hear rate sensors. I’ll have a chat with the iBike people to see what’s up here.

No doubt you’ll be hearing more about this here as time goes on. You can also follow the data it delivers at Garmin Connect and the RSS feed in the bar on the right hand side. It was great on the bike yesterday; buttons seems to be in slightly better places, the vibration warnings are great (very clear), and the screen is very clear. I like the blue backlit display, but then, I like the green backlight of the 305 too. I tried it in the pool today too, and I’ll need to modify what I do a little (mostly pressing the lap button a little more often – I normally use a nice, clean, simple old Garmin 50 for recording times in the pool) but I was happily shocked by the new types of data available to me. I had an idea of the number of strokes I take per length, but I had no idea of my stroke rate, or how my stroke rate changes with pace, how my pace changes with longer intervals, or how my efficiency changes when I get tired. Lots of data to come. Lovely. It’ll be interesting to see what Training Peaks makes of the data.

(I love the fact that Garmin Connect works on the iPad now too, and the lack of Flash seems to cut the number of browser problems on my Mac too).